Cats were first on the planet 35 million years ago

I may be hard for some people to understand that cats were present on planet Earth 35 million years ago. These were the first ‘true cats’. The era is called the Oligocene. This first cat has the Latin name: Proailurus. The name is a merging of ‘pro’ meaning early and ‘ailurus’ meaning cat from a Latinized Greek word.

P. lemanensis
P. lemanensis. Image: Prehistoric Fauna.
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The scientists believe that these forerunners of the modern-day cat evolved in Europe.

It was the size of an ocelot which is a pretty standard size for a small wild cat species although a little larger than average. P. lemanensis differed from today’s cats in that it retained the front and hind cheek teeth resulting in a longer snout. Other than this they were very similar to today’s cat species.

It was like today’s civet which may explain the different dentition which had also evolved to cut up the flesh of prey animals. The first cats even had protrusible claws (retractile claws) and were skilled climbers.

The species that scientists unearthed was named Proailurus lemanensis (P. lemanensis). The cat’s fossil was found in Saint-Gérand-le-Puy, France. It has been dated to around 20 million years ago. This cat species would appear to have been on the planet for 15 million years by the time this individual cat died. Earlier, incomplete fossils of the same species were discovered in the Quercy region of France in sediments which were dated to 27-30 million years ago.

Over the intervening 35 million years the cat has evolved rather conservatively to refine their anatomy to make them the super elegant and efficient predator that they are today.

Cat History For Kids
Cat History for Kids. Credits: Landscape of N. America 10m years ago Wikimedia Commons author Jay Matternes. In public domain USA. Fair use pleaded. Pseudaelurus in public domain USA and fair use pleaded. Snowshoe cat copyright Helmi Flick. Note: there is one small deliberate mistake in the picture. Can you spot it and leave a comment?

Cats were first on the planet 35 million years ago. The cat featured in the illustration above was the next cat in the evolutionary line.

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